- Takes note that the United Arab Emirates has nominated Al Aflaj, traditional irrigation network system in the UAE, oral traditions, knowledge and skills of construction, maintenance and equitable water distribution (no. 01577) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:
Al Aflaj and the related oral traditions, knowledge and skills of construction, maintenance and equitable water distribution are a source of pride for the associated communities. Al Aflaj is a traditional irrigation system which uses an underground tunnel to conduct water over long distances from an underground source to a basin, where the community can access it. The water flows by gradual gradient from highlands to flatlands, while the underground tunnels reduce evaporation. Al Aflaj also includes a network of surface channels, which distributes water to local farms. The Al Aflaj system is based on inherited knowledge and practices related to nature and the universe. It also relies on traditional skills in finding water sources based on types of vegetation and other indications, as well as drilling skills for maintaining the irrigation system and ensuring the equitable distribution of water. Community members contribute to maintaining Al Aflaj and clearing the tunnels of mud; this knowledge and experience has been passed down for 3,000 years. Related knowledge is transmitted through instruction and shared experience as well as by other means such as field trips for school students. Throughout the centuries, the Al Aflaj have served to provide drinkable water for humans and animals and to irrigate farms in an arid environment, demonstrating the community’s creativity in the face of water scarcity and the desert environment.
- Considers that, from the information included in the file, the nomination satisfies the following criteria for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:
R.1: The communal use of water resources and the system for the equitable distribution of water centers on the sustainable use of natural resources. The practice is based on communal endeavour, agreement, cooperation and mutual respect and promotes cohesion within the local community. The community concerned is made up of the inhabitants of the oasis, particularly those associated with the maintenance and management of Al Aflaj, with established roles and an Al Aflaj committee comprising experienced senior members of the community. In terms of the role distribution, the practitioners are male farmers while women and children, as community members, contribute to maintaining Al Aflaj and clearing the tunnels of mud. The file demonstrates the interlinkages with tangible, built heritage as well as with the surrounding landscape. Al Aflaj is also the subject of literary and poetic works.
R.2: The inscription of Al Aflaj and its associated knowledge, skills and practices will contribute to enhancing peoples' interest in intangible cultural heritage practices associated with the skills and knowledge related to the sustainable use of natural resources. At the international level, Al Aflaj is an example of human creativity in adapting to the environment through one of the traditional irrigation methods which, along with other such creative methods in many regions of the world, enrich the cultural landscape.
R.3: The communities, groups and individuals concerned have dedicated their attention to safeguarding Al Aflaj in the past. The Law of Protection of Oases and Al Aflaj was drawn up to prevent any change in the use of Al Aflaj water. The future safeguarding measures related to Al Aflaj will be launched as part of a comprehensive project to safeguard the oases of palm trees and Al Aflaj as an important part of the heritage of the United Arab Emirates. This project has been discussed since 2013, with vast community participation, including on the part of farmers, farm owners, experts and other heritage stakeholders.
R.4: The idea of nominating Al Aflaj for inscription on the Representative List first emerged as a recommendation from the communities. They participated in the nomination process: consultative meetings were held with representatives of the inhabitants of the Al Aflaj areas, providing the file preparation team with all the information required to draw up the nomination.
- Further considers that, on the basis of the information included in the file and the information provided by the submitting State through the dialogue process, the following criterion for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity is satisfied:
R.5: ‘Al Aflaj, traditional irrigation network system in the UAE, oral traditions, knowledge and skills of construction, maintenance and equitable water distribution’ was included in the Register of Intangible Cultural Heritage Emirate of Abu Dhabi in December 2015. The process of identifying and defining the Al Aflaj element began with the preparations for establishing the Heritage Register, which was joined by communities, groups and individuals through field research carried out by research teams from the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi. The modality and periodicity of updating the Register were sufficiently explained.
Decides to inscribe Al Aflaj, traditional irrigation network system in the UAE, oral traditions, knowledge and skills of construction, maintenance and equitable water distribution on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity;
Commends the State Party for the submission of an improved file following the decision of the Committee not to inscribe the element in 2018;
Recommends that the State Party further strengthen its efforts to support the community-based transmission of the element, as a practice of intangible cultural heritage as defined in the Convention, rather than focusing on maintaining and preserving the tangible and physical aspects of intangible cultural heritage.